This week (12-18 June 2016) is National Blood Donor week, turning the spotlight on the selfless donors who are changing people’s lives by donating whole blood, plasma and platelets.

The Australian Red Cross Blood Service is one of the safest blood donor services in the world. At collection centres all over the country (Nambour and Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast), as well as mobile donor centres, the Blood Service is collecting the vital element, blood, that is so versatile it can be made into 22 different medical treatments. The Blood Service reports that ‘one in three people will need blood, but only one in thirty donates’, so the contribution of donors is huge factor in the Australian health system.

In an emergency where someone shows the signs and symptoms of cardiac arrest, there are four links in the Chain of Survival (free chart available from Allens Training): Early Access to the Ambulance; Early CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation); Early Defibrillation (restarting the heart); and Early Advanced Care.

As participants in Allens Training CPR courses learn, the purpose of the second link, Early CPR, is to maintain oxygen circulation. Blood is the vital element that carries oxygen around the body. In cases of accident and trauma, part of the emergency care that happens after the fourth link in the Chain of Survival could be a blood transfusion, provided by one or more of the thousands of donors who go along to Australian Red Cross Blood Service collection centres and donate blood, plasma and platelets.

The blood circulation system was first described in 1628 by British physician William Harvey. However, early attempts at blood transfusions in humans had a low success rate. It was not until 1900/01, when Austrian physician Karl Landsteiner identified the different blood groups (A, B, AB and O), that the incompatibility between the groups was understood as the main reason for transfusion failures. Blood group typing and cross matching between donor and receiver became routine following the suggestion of American surgeon Reuben Ottenberg in 1907. Improvements in refrigeration and anticoagulants (to stop the blood clotting before it could be used) meant that blood could be stored and used later. In this way, blood banks came into being. The first blood banks were set up during World War One near the battlefields at casualty clearing stations, where blood was stored in glass bottles.

The next major development was the establishment in 1921 of the world’s first blood donor service by Percy Oliver, the Secretary of the British Red Cross. The Second World War (1939-45) provided the catalyst for more blood banks to be set up in Britain and other countries, and for more developments such as the fractionation of blood, which allowed plasma to be separated out and used as a substitute for whole blood. The discovery of the Rhesus factor in 1939-40 greatly increased the success rate of transfusions, many of which previously had failed due to the incompatibility of Rh- and Rh+ blood within the same blood group. The introduction in 1950 of durable plastic bags to replace glass bottles greatly improved transport and storage of blood.

Today, modern medical technology has perfected collection and storage techniques. The donor centres are comfortable, friendly places, and the whole process is not as scary as many imagine. You can even bring a friend for support. ‘Giving feels good’ – check out how you can become a blood donor.


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